A Friday Morning Coffee with Keef

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Today’s imaginary interviewee: Keith Richards

I’m never quite sure who’s going to show up for my peripatetic (and completely invented) brain-picking sessions with people I admire. After my last foray into imaginary interviewing — when I intended to focus on Virginia Woolf and ended up rambling on about the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius instead — I sat down one day not much later and made a list of people I thought I might like to “meet”.

I made two lists, actually, divided simply along the lines of life or death.

And armed with those lists, I quickly realised that it is much simpler to write about a person who is no longer gracing the Earth with their presence, particularly if they have been dead for quite some time.  In the era of #metoo (fundamentally important as that movement is), it is far more challenging to delve into the thoughts of a living person, particularly when they may or may not end up being outed as a sex pest.

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True. But you also see my sex pest problem…

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turned up in my little patch of cyberspace this morning and discovered Keith Richards waiting for me.

Not really, obviously.

But after spending an evening this week watching Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America, the Rolling Stones’ documentary about their 2016 tour which culminated in their historic Cuban concert, there he was.

Keef.

With plenty, as always, to say. And, one can only assume, probably not all that bothered about whatever acusation anyone would level at him — the man, as he freely admits, has lived long and hard, and outlived many it was readily assumed he would predecease.

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Good question. How do you play with your time?

I’m not what you’d call a diehard Rolling Stones fan. I don’t have a standout favourite Stones song, but harbour soft spots for several (depending mainly on my mood). I know better than to put myself in the middle of any pointless Beatles vs Stones battles, because there’s actually no contest: the world is a better place for having both bands (I stand firmly with the girl from the taco ad on that one…“¿Porque No Los Dos?” ). And I can’t say I prefer any one of the Rolling Stones over another: I tend to appreciate them collectively more than I do indivdiually.

And yet, I have to admit there is something undeniably intriguing about Keith Richards.

Unlike the 2015 film Under the Influence, which focussed solely on Keith himself, the Olé Olé Olé! doco is about the whole band, though it does shift (seamlessly, I might add) from ensemble pieces to individual portraits of the band members. The juxtaposition of these different points of view enhances both: the concert footage of stadiums seething with fans is made all the more massive, while the one-on-one sequences achieve greater intimacy and poignancy. As the band wends its way (via private jet and with police escourts) through South America, we glean insights from each member into the various countries they are visiting and how they have changed during the fifty (yes, fifty) years that they have been performing there, into life on the road, and into life itself.

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Richards in Lima, 2016.

There is a beautiful moment in the film when Richards can be seen, initially from a distance, sitting poolside at a clifftop hotel in Lima, playing an acoustic guitar. The pool is turquoise, his shirt scarlet, the sounds flamenco. There is no doubting his musical ability: this is a man who, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s phrase, has done his 10,000 hours, playing everywhere from small pubs to gigantic arenas, or simply noodling away with an instrument and an endless succession of cigarettes, whiling away the time. Richards’ observation of Lima is that it has changed, markedly, since he first visited it in 1968: cities spring up “like tombstones” he says, as the camera pans out to reveal a skyline full of skyscrapers, resembling a cemetary more than one would like to admit.

Richards is a man who, quite clearly, knows how lucky he is — he seems, genuinely, to appreciate the trappings of fame he gets to enjoy, but he also appears to be acutely aware how fortunate he is to be doing what he loves (sorry, make that absolutely loves) for a living, and to be doing it with a bunch of blokes he has been hanging out with for five decades.

There is something that sticks us together. It’s nothing you’d ever catch us talking about. I feel I’m awfully blessed, really.

KEITH RICHARDS

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There’s a glimmer of it in here….

There is an occasional glint in his eye or a throaty chuckle that betrays the fact that he doesn’t half mind his own notoriety, either, but it’s nothing malicious — if anything, now that Richards is aged 75, these small glimpses remind me in some way of my own globetrotting gypsy grandmother who, at a similar point in her life, may well have had the same sense of mischievous glee in behaving in ways that were not generally considered to be age appropriate.

And finally, beneath all of this is a strong, unspoken sense that Richards knows just how lucky he is to be alive.

And that, for my money, is something worth remembering.

 

A Visit From the Philosopher Emperor

Marcus 1I find it hard to believe that it is almost March, and that this year I’ve only managed to get fingers to keys here in my small patch of cyberspace twice. I thought, when I began this post, that it was going to be about Virginia Woolf — but as you will see, it didn’t turn out that way at all.

Last year I threw myself into the effort of picking a Word of the Month each month and mulling it over, drawing out the meaning I found in it and making sense of how it fitted into my life. I considered doing something similar this year, but found myself unable to settle on a theme.

I did wonder, after watching Gladiator for the umpteenth time, whether I could focus on a list of lesser-sung qualities or pseduo-virtues, much like those offered in the film by Commodus to his dying father, Marcus Aurelius, but know myself well enough to realise I am not the sort of person to hold up ambition as something to aspire to. Ambition may have its purpose and its place, but I am much more likely to agree with Marcus Aurelius himself, the last of the Five Good Emperors, that wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance form the cornerstones of a good character. More to the point, I am also aware that many people have written about such ideals since…well, quite obviously, since Roman times.

I then began pondering whether I would write a series of monthly posts at all.  I don’t mind working under pressure and am generally unfazed by deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), but with a new school and work year offering a far more complicated set of variables than I have had to deal with in recent times, the prospect of a more fluid approach than that I had in 2018 had real appeal. After all, these are meant to the musings — rather than the rantings — of the Daydream Believer, and the prospect of committing to a  monthly post seemed a little, as Commodus might have put it, ambitious.

Marcus 2So, having unfettered myself from all sorts of strictures, I gave myself permission to meander down some old Roman roads, following the trail of the Philosopher Emperor and his wayward son.  Commodus, according to Cassius Dio (who witnessed his actions and antics firsthand), was “not naturally wicked but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature.” Ouch.

On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius is generally well remembered: he was the last of the Roman Emperors to be associated with the Pax Romana — a period of relative peace and stability through the Roman Empire which, almost miraculously, lasted for more than two centuries. Our old friend Cassius Dio says that after Marcus Aurelius died, the Roman Empire turned “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust”.

Before he departed this life, however, that old Stoic Marcus Aurelius had some things to say that are quite possibly as relevant today as when he wrote them, back in the second century.  “The soul,” he said, “becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”

These, history tells us, are some of the thoughts which coloured Marcus Aurelius’ soul:

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

You have power over your mind — not outside events.  Realise this, and you will find strength.

The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.

He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.

They’re not bad are they? It’s probably a shame that Commodus didn’t listen to his dear old Dad…but at least history has preserved Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Cassius Dio’s Roman History for us all to dip into whenever we wish to.

Marcus 3So that’s what I think I’ll be getting up to this year: delving into the thoughts of people who I happen to find interesting, diving into the depths and exploring topics and stories and ideas I find intriguing. I suspect that Virginia Woolf might get a look in somewhere — I know she tried to today, but Commodus must have had other ideas — and maybe Frida Kahlo, and Ursula Le Guin and goodness knows who else I happen to encounter.

It will be a twisting, turning, and somewhat eclectic journey, I’d imagine, but this — as always — is an open invitation to join me and whoever I visit along the way.

 

Tempus Fugit

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Time flies, as any wag will tell you, when you’re having fun.

But here in Sydney, as our glorious summer holidays are drawing all too swiftly to a close, my mind has turned to Virgil’s original words, written in his Georgics centuries ago.

Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.

Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour, as point to point our charmed round we trace.

VIRGIL trans. Rhoades

We have had a fortunate summer, sun-filled and surf-drenched, with barefoot days and balmy nights.

And while the clocks sometimes seemed to slow during the past six weeks, time — inescapable, irretrievable time — has slipped steadily, stealthily by.

tempus 1I mean it’s there, if I look for it.  I know I could find snippets of it between the pages of the dozen novels I’ve read since Christmas, or catch a glimpse or two between beach towels flapping in the breeze on the washing line. There’s probably a drop or two left in a wineglass on a windowsill somewhere, and a few morsels thrown in with the leftover salads in the fridge. I will no doubt discover a few more bits in with the various brightly coloured cards and plastic pieces of board games we’ve played during the heat of the day, or find some slipped into the pocket of one of my kids’ shorts with a couple of movie ticket stubs.

But now, at the end of my favourite month of the year, there is only a day or two left before school resumes for my girls — a new start for one, a familar return for the other — and I will admit feeling slightly nostalgic and a little bereft. The irreparable hour has well and truly flown, and I am reminded of my favourite childhood picture book, Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, about another summer, spent by another family comprising, as ours does, of a mother, father and two sisters, far away in Maine.

I know this feeling is universal and, ironically, timeless: Virgil wrote about it in the first century and McCloskey was still picking up the theme in the twentieth.

But I also know that there will be a certain heaviness in my heart and a lag in my step when we wend our way from point to point on our own charmed round this evening…down to the beach for one last swim as a family, and back home again for a BBQ and a quiet glass of wine.

That charmed round isn’t going anywhere — and I am well aware we are beyond lucky to live where we do — but it’s never quite the same once school has started again, and the long summer days have lost their laziness, and a perhaps a little of their loveliness.

Take a farewell look at the waves and sky. Take a farewell sniff of the salty sea. A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going. It is a time of quiet wonder — for wondering, for instance, where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?

ROBERT McCLOSKEY

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Home…

2018: The Year in Music

It’s the final day of the year, and here is my final countdown, too.

Music is practically as essential to me as oxygen, an ever-present part of my life that I am grateful for each and every day. For me, the ability to create and appreciate music is one of the most significant aspects of being human that separates us from all other species on the planet. We are the luckiest of creatures.

So here they are, in no particular order, Blue Jai’s Top 5 Songs of 2018:

1. Superstar by IV League (AUS)

This is the kind of song that makes me feel alive every time I listen to it. There’s something about the guitar-driven sound of this Melbourne-based four piece that makes you want to move (dance on top of a bar even), to sing along at the top of your lungs (though props to you if you can match Bella Venutti’s vocals). Unearthed on Triple J a couple of years ago, these guys know garage rock and they do it damn well.

 

2. The Comedown was Real by Drapht (AUS)

Perth hip hop artist Drapht comes through with this sweet number that gets stuck in your head as much as it gets your toes tapping. There’s a lot to love about this track, not least the lyrics, which are pretty funny and reference everything from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping episode on Oprah. This song never fails to bring a smile to my face.

 

3. All The Time by The Kooks (UK)

I don’t know how many hundred times I’ve listened to this song this year. Somehow it brings together disco with an eighties glam feel and makes something shiny and bright and as close to over the top as you can get without going over the edge. The Kooks have at least three fans in our household of four, and this song from their latest album “Let’s Go Sunshine” gets our vote.

 

4. Bubblin’ by Anderson .Paak (USA)

The story goes that when Anderson .Paak heard the hook that inspired this track it brought his mind straight to James Bond.  In an interview he described Bubblin’ as “some black 007 action adventure high speed chase type of music”, and believe me he delivers just that. I haven’t included the video to this one as it’s not entirely kid friendly, but I can assure you it’s so OTT that it does the song justice. Even the zebra. Especially the zebra.

5. Fool’s Gold by Jack River

This is another song that’s been on high rotation at ours this year, along with a bunch of other tracks from Jack River’s debut album “Sugar Mountain”. I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find a person who couldn’t find one song on that album to like, but I have a soft spot for several of them. This is Aus Pop at it’s best, delivered by the woman who also had the chutzpah to curate the Electric Lady Festival and then turn it into an entire world, “a platform to amplify the strength of women in music, politics, science, sport and beyond.” We need more Jack River!

 

Honourable Mentions this year are perhaps too numerous to mention.  Lana Del Ray’s Mariners Apartment Complex (USA) very nearly made the final cut, but five is five and Jack River snuck in instead.

I have to say that I loved a whole pile of homegrown Australian music in 2018, like Hatchie’s Bad Guy, Gretta Ray’s Radio Silence and Kira Puru’s Molotov, and I’m looking forward to delving deeper into Matt Corby’s, Tash Sultana’s and RÜFÜS DU SOL’s new albums over the summer. I suspect Ziggy Alberts, City Calm Down, Mallrat, Phantastic Ferniture and Baker Boy wil be getting a spin, too.

I’ve also enjoyed songs from elsewhere, like Jungle’s Heavy, California (UK), Grouplove’s Welcome to Your Life (USA), Aurora’s Queendom (Norway), Bill Ryder-Jones’ And Then There’s You, and Poppy Ackroyd’s beautiful instrumental piece Paper (both UK).

And just for fun here a my Top Five Throwbacks for 2018 — oldies but goodies I’ve been getting into again:

  1. Machu Picchu by The Strokes
  2. Country Grammar by Nelly
  3. She’s a Mystery to Me by Roy Orbison
  4. Bad Decisions by Two Door Cinema Club
  5. Revival by Deerhunter

So that’s a wrap for 2018, folks! Hit me with your top tunes…I’m sure to find something I love in the mix.

And all the best for a 2019 full of all the best that can be found in books, on screen and in music.

BJx

 

2018: The Year on Screen

So I can’t say I’ve done a huge amount of movie-going this year, and I still haven’t watched Season 4 of Peaky Blinders, which I know would have made my list had I got around to it…some things have to be savoured. Because Cillian Murphy.

Enough said.

But I did manage to see a few things that caught both my eye and my attention, so without further ado, here is Blue Jai’s Top 5 on Screen for 2018.

1. Nanette (Netflix Special)

nanetteThis incredible piece of writing and genuine human bravery by Hannah Gadsby was intended as her farewell to comedy, but became a significant part of a much larger global conversation about equality.

I have no idea how Gadsby pulled off doing her live show of Nanette night after night, but I do know it sparked a rare argument between me and The Bloke and moved me to write about my reaction to that event and to watching this tour de force, which I called We Need More Words. Because we do. This, in my view, and with no pun intended, is compulsory viewing.

2. The Bridge (Season 4)

bridgeAnother piece of viewing that resulted in its own blog post was the final instalment in the brilliant Swedish/Danish production The Bridge (Bron|Broen). There is so much I love about this show — despite it being Nordic Noir at its finest, with all that entails, I was so attached to the main characters and invested in the eventual outcome of their respective journeys (particularly after the brilliant final episode of Season 3) that I did not want Series 4 to end.

But since it as, I’m looking forward to watching this again. No, wait…let’s be clear: I’m looking forward to sitting down with all four seasons through again. If you’ve not seen it, please start at the beginning and stick to the original Scandi production instead of wasting your time with remakes. For me, The Bridge sets the benchmark for quality TV viewing.

3. Ant-man & The Wasp (Movie)

antmanGenerally speaking I include one sentimental favourite in my Top 5 each year, and this is 2018’s offering. I freely admit to being a sucker for any Marvel movie, and felt it my duty as a fan to include one this year as a tribute to the late, great Stan Lee.

The main reason Ant-man & The Wasp makes this year’s list, however, is that we have finally got to the point where we can see Marvel Movies (well, some of them) as a family — and this was our first shared experience of the Marvel Universe together. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop enjoyed the film so much that they went to see it a second time with The Bloke’s parents, who were as baffled by the storyline as they were by the girls’ massive enjoyment of it, but I’m chalking that up as a parenting win. Antman & The Wasp was a rollicking good time, complete with “that gigantic underpants scene” my kids found so funny. What’s not to love?

4. Arrival (Movie)

arrivalYeah, yeah…I know — this came out ages ago, but finally popped up on Netflix so I actually got to watch it, so it’s on my list for 2018.

That said, I found the concepts in this film so intriguing — particularly the treatment of time and language. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner both delivered solid, convincing performances, and I was genuinely moved by the decisions Adams’ character faces and ultimately makes. This is so much more than a “human meets alien” flick, and it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time.

5. The Last Kingdom (Season 3)

last kingdomAn unusual choice? Perhaps, but I’m as big a sucker for TV based on historical events (regardless of its accuracy) as I am for historical fiction.  The Bloke and I do struggle with — and snigger at — the voiceover that precedes each episode of this Netflix Original starring Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon raised from early childhood as a Dane during the time of Alfred the Great.

This, to my mind, is the strongest of the three seasons made so far, particularly in its depiction of Uhtred’s changing relationship with his childhood friend Brida and of King Alfred’s struggles as he faces his impending death.  The presentation of the idea of England — an as yet unrealised dream, intangible but still powerful — also drew me in. If you like a bit of drama with a few big battle scenes and plenty of long haired blokes running around with swords, The Last Kingdom is plenty of fun.

Honourable Mentions this year go to Black Panther, a movie that has generated a bunch of press for all the right reasons as well as being a fantastic addition to the Marvel Universe, to Salt, Fat, Acid Heat, Samin Nosrat’s fantastic Netflix series that is part travelogue as well as being a top notch cooking show, and to every single brilliantly written season of Brooklyn 99, my go-to pick-me-up comedy.

And now, since it’s the summer holidays, hit me with your best viewing of 2018!

2018: The Year in Books

OK folks…it’s that time of year when I present my top fives for 2018.

Today it’s books! So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are Blue Jai’s Top 5 Books for 2018:

1. Boy Swallows Universe (2018) by Trent Dalton

Boy swallows universeYour end is a dead blue wren…

For me, it’s as unforgettable a first line as any of the great first lines in literary history: Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice, Lolita. I’ve already written a tiny bit about this book, which has become my new Favourite Book of All Time. Really. It’s a rollicking good read and exceptionally well written, with the added (and almost unbelievable) bonus of being based on real events from Trent Dalton’s childhood. There is something inherently Australian about this debut novel: Dalton captures the heat and humidity of living on the outskirts of Brisbane, and all that simmers beneath.

If you’ve read it already, I can highly recommend his Conversation with Richard Fidler about writing the novel. If you haven’t read it, I’m not going to say any more…other than to say I, quite obviously, recommend you get your hand on a copy of this and — hopefully — enjoy it as much as I did.

2. Pachinko (2017) by Min Jin Lee

PachinkoThis sprawling family saga had me captivated from the start. Set in Korea and Japan in the early decades of last century, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is packed full of detail and emotion. Depicting a way of life and period of history I knew little about, I was swept up in the story of Sunja and her descendants. I found Lee’s treatment of the strange limbo occupied by the Koreans who moved to Japan, even after several generations, interesting and moving.

If you’re after a read that will deposit you in a foreign land and make you feel like you can’t leave until you know what’s happened to all the main characters, this is the book for you.

3. Danger Music (2017) by Eddie Ayres

danger musicThis autobiographical tale of teaching cello to children in wartorn Afghanistan follows Ayres’ earlier book, Cadence, which was written while he was still known as Emma Ayres, the hugely popular host of ABC Classic FM’s Breakfast program (and a particular family favourite of ours).

Ayres’ story of self-discovery, set admist the chaos of Kabul and the challenges of teaching children who deal every day with the twin threats of violence and loss, is a painfully but beautifully honest account of his transition to becoming the man he always was inside. The playlist at the end of the book is an added bonus for any music lover, but this book has something for everyone.

4. Bridge of Clay (2018) by Markus Zusak

bridge of clayOh, how long we all have waited for this book?! Not nearly as long as Zusak himself who, after the phenomenal success of The Book Thief, wrote and rewrote Bridge of Clay for years until he finally reached a point where he could release into our hands.

I was conscious, at different points of reading this brilliant novel, that each and every word was precisely chosen and placed…but that in no way detracted from the tale and my emotional investment in it. This was a book I tried to read slowly, to savour the writing, the characters, the whole shebang — but partway through I gave in and finished the rest of the book in one go, unable to resist the pull of the plot. This is a superbly crafted novel that is well worth your time, and one I spent days thinking about after I’d finished it.

5. Becoming (2018) by Michelle Obama

becomingBecoming was always going to be a global blockbuster: Michelle Obama is someone many of us admire want to know more about. Here, in her own words, is Obama’s story of her upbringing, her education, her marriage, and her time in the public eye as First Lady of the United States.

It’s forthright. It’s interesting. It’s well-written. And as soon as I finished it, I was more than happy to pass it on to my elder daughter, who (despite being in primary school) devoured it as quickly as I did and enjoyed it just as much. If you’re after an autobiography to read this summer, not to mention a reminder of a time when the highest offices of one of our most powerful allies were not reduced to chaos and trivialising tweets, this is well worth a look.

Honourable mentions this year go to Ian’ McEwan’s Solar (2010), which may well be the most darkly humourous novel I have ever read, and Muhsin Al-Ramli’s haunting and heartbreaking book The President’s Gardens (originally published in Arabic in 2012) which, like Pachinko, took me to a place in time I have had little experience with but for which I now have a much deeper appreciation.

I also thorougly enjoyed Ailsa Piper’s travelogue Sinning Across Spain (2017), Helen Russell’s occasionally hilarious The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (2016) and delighted in Stephen Fry’s Mythos (2018), his elegant and downright funny retelling of the Greek Myths.

So there you have it! Hopefully there is something for everyone here…I’d love to know what you think and what you’ve read this year, so get in touch via the comments if you think I’ve missed one of your standout books for 2018.

It’s summer here, and that means time for books!

Festivities & Finish Lines

xmas 2Choosing my Word of the Month for December was an absolute no-brainer: it is, and could only be, CELEBRATE!

We seem to have a special investment in Christmas (particularly) and the Festive Season (more generally) here in the Southern Hemisphere.  Our Christmases may not be white, fur-lined or fir-filled as they are in all the traditional carols, but here they are blue-skied, sunny and trimmed with sand and surf.

More importantly, they represent completion as much as they do birth. There is a real sense of “we made it“… the school year is over, workplaces tend to shut down, and everyone gets swept up in a whirl of carol nights and Christmas parties celebrating the end of another year.

We all watch Love Actually for the umpteenth time, despite the fact our winter coats have long been stashed away.  Summer arrives, in all its splendour.

Stone fruits are in season — mangoes and plums, peaches and nectarines — and seafood and salads seem the obvious choice for dinner, particularly when paired with prosecco or a crisp sav blanc.

xmas 1And even though several people have commented to me recently that everyone seems so stressed at this time of year, but my own experience has been quite the opposite.  When I went to the grocery store the other day to do the last Big Shop before the Big Day, I was amazed by the number of strangers who smiled at each other and engaged each me and others in conversation — there was a palpable sense of Christmas cheer in the air.

So I wish you, and anyone who has followed the Blue Jai Creative journey this year, a Christmas worth celebrating this year. May it be filled with the things that warm your heart and nourish your soul, wherever you find yourself.

And me? I’ll be with my family, making Christmas last as long as we can until New Years Eve rolls around, enjoying long sultry days and balmy summer nights until we welcome 2019 with glorious starbursts of fireworks above Sydney Harbour.

We’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.

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